President Scott L. Wyatt and his wife Kathy saw a need to fill for the students of Southern Utah University and were willing to sacrifice something that many people might not: their home.
“It gives me chills. It was very unselfish. It shows how much President Wyatt and Kathy really care about students and their children,” said Kristy Degraaf, the childcare manager of the new facility.
While researching the female graduation and retention rates at SUU, Kathy came across a survey conducted by an SUU student and realized that at the age of 25, many women were dropping out of college because they were having children.
That survey was conducted by student Alayna Johnson. When Johnson was seven weeks pregnant, her husband left her and her three children. After having her baby, Johnson enrolled at SUU, hoping her decision would give her children a better life.
“My baby girl Hope came to me at the darkest time of my life. My faith had been shattered and as I gathered what I could to rebuild I was only left with a hope of something better,” Johnson said. “And yet, in that darkness, I was growing a life within me. The only thing I had left was hope: trusting, anticipating, expecting, wishing and desiring better days.”
It was after learning of Johnson’s story that the idea to build the Sorenson Legacy Foundation Center for Hope was born.
“We chose the name The Sorenson Legacy Foundation Center for Hope because we want to give student-parents strength and courage to continue what they started (just as baby Hope did for Alayna). We want to give them hope,” Kathy said.
The childcare costs only $3.50 an hour for children ages 6 weeks to 2 years and $3 for ages 2 to 4 years. If your child is over 4, visit the SUU Preschool website.
“The purpose [of the Hope Childcare Center] is to help those that are single parents break that cycle of poverty and go back to school or help them stay in school,” Wyatt said.
SUU could have built a new facility instead of giving up their home, but Wyatt explained that the decision to build a new center would have taken two to three years — years that many students and their children would have to struggle through without a solution to the need for daycare.
“We took the proposal that was going to the state to build the childcare facility and decided to replace that with the new classroom building,” Wyatt said. “By remodeling our home, we saved $4 million and ended up with a much better facility than we could’ve built otherwise.”
Wyatt and his wife moved into a much smaller house located near the Utah Shakespeare Festival grounds, sacrificing their more spacious and beautiful home for the good of the students and their children.
Although there was a preschool available for students’ children — shared with the Utah Shakespeare Festival childcare where those attending plays could take their children — there hadn’t been a dedicated childcare program on campus for over ten years, according to Degraaf.
“We’ve had a lot of wonderful donors and are laser-focused on providing affordable childcare so students can complete their degrees,” Wyatt said.
The donors included the Sorenson Legacy Foundation, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Emma Eccles Jones Foundation, the SUU Entrepreneur Leadership Council and many more. All donors can be found on the wall within the Hope Childcare Center.
Not only does the new facility provide affordable childcare for parents, but it will be the location where many SUU students will complete their practicums, observations and research.
“It’s a really neat collaboration. We’re able to care for student’s children which is helping them complete their degrees, give them access to high-quality, affordable childcare and on top of all of that, we are able to provide some jobs for them,” Degraaf said.
Degraaf expressed her gratitude that President Wyatt and his wife decided to give up their home because she recalls what it was like to have children when trying to complete school.
“We had two kids and had to put paying for childcare on student loans that we are still paying off [now],” Degraaf said. She recalls having to work while her husband was completing his degree, and thinks it’s “amazing” to have this resource available for students now.
“When I attended SUU, I knew it was special because my professors knew my name. Caring about their students is still a driving factor. The president cares about his students and is willing to invest personally,” Degraaf added.
The Sorenson Legacy Foundation Center for Hope open house was held on Sept. 11 and provided a small VIP tour for about 75 members of the community that were interested in the program. For parents that are considering childcare for their children, tours can be scheduled after normal daycare hours by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Students must provide a schedule of what hours they want childcare for the semester, and then they will pay based off of that information.
“[The price of daycare] is significantly less expensive because of the support we are getting from President Wyatt, but students must schedule at least three hours at a time for their children,” said Degraaf. “We are trying to balance providing good care for the children which comes from having a consistent schedule and still providing affordable, high-quality childcare.”
Students looking for employment at the Sorenson Legacy Foundation Center for Hope can contact the day care at email@example.com.
“It’s helpful if student’s applying have experience in childcare, but it’s not required. We are just looking for students that are excited to gain experience with children and family life and human development,” said Degraaf.
Employees must receive an extensive background check and go through training processes on cardiopulmonary resuscitation, licensing and developmentally appropriate practice.
The center focuses on play-based learning and child-directed care. Children do not play with electronics, games or even battery-powered toys. Instead, the facility offers open-ended toys that encourage children to create their own fun.
“We are getting back to the root of teaching kids how to play and learn. We want them to learn how to interact socially and be creative,” Degraaf said.
The center is on campus near the tennis courts and football stadium on 302 S 1100 W.
The daycare is open year-round, Monday-Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and will be closed on major holidays.
“Anybody that has a child should be looking into the possibility of getting their child in this program,” Wyatt said.
Story by: Elizabeth Armstrong
Photos by: Elizabeth Armstrong